Howdy! Some of you might know me as @AngelwingsSteph – a first-time author and blogger from Oklahoma. My infertility memoir, ANGEL WINGS is now available! But what you might not know is that I am quite the pasta enthusiast. I looooooove pasta dishes! In fact, it has become my “go to” during COVID, and I’ve been wearing stretchy pants a bit more often as a result. Below is my latest blog about traveling to Oklahoma’s “Little Italy”, and at the end…my gift to you…five recipes of amazing Italian inspired pasta dishes! Enjoy! Or should I say, “Buon appetito!”
Covid-19 Cabin Fever Calls for a Road Trip
I recently took a two-hour drive to McAlester, Oklahoma which is just a few minutes from Krebs (aka Oklahoma’s “Little Italy”). It was a much-needed escape for me, my Mom and my oldest son Aidan – we had Covid-19 cabin fever, y’all! McAlester is where my great-grandparents lived, so it was a chance for us to visit their graves and former home. My Mom filled the six-hour excursion with story after story about her grandparents. It was fun to watch and listen to her reminisce.
The town of Krebs is rich in Italian heritage. It was originally a mining camp, housing Italian immigrants who came to work in the coal mines during the late 1800’s. All these years later, the Italian influence is still strong.
Choc’ing It Up at Pete’s
There are several iconic Italian restaurants in Krebs. Pete’s Place is the most famous of all – home of “family style” Italian cuisine. Pete’s was established in 1925 and four generations later; it’s still owned by the same family today. The Piegari family left Italy in 1903 and settled in Krebs. The whole family went to work in the mines, but their son Pete was involved in a horrible mining accident and was unable to return to work. That is when he took up brewing beer using a recipe from the local Native Americans. Friends would stop by his house for a beer. He also felt compelled to feed them and would serve family style helpings of his Italian specialties. Not long after, he officially opened a restaurant in his house.
CHOC beer (which is named after the Choctaw Indians) was popular with the locals, especially the late nineteenth century immigrant coal miners. Back then, federal law prohibited the sale of alcohol in Indian Territory. Even after Oklahoma reached statehood, it was still a “dry” state. However, some restaurants would sell choc beer to their best customers. Pete’s is now home of the official CHOC beer, which is an unfiltered wheat. My Mom is Choctaw, and it is the only beer she will drink. Naturally, we picked up two packs to go.
Loving Me Some Lovera’s
After stopping at Pete’s, we placed a curbside order at the famous Lovera’s grocery store and meat market, which has been open since 1946. The Lovera family emigrated from Piemonte, Italy and settled in Krebs in 1907. We stocked up on jars of marinara, sausage, olives, olive oil and more. It is a darling and quaint little shop! Be sure to check out their award-winning Caciocavera cheese.
A Trip Down the Isle
Last, we picked up a “to go” order at The Isle of Capri. It was founded by the Giacomo family (who also left Italy for the plains of Oklahoma to chase the American Dream). The husband, Dominic, worked in the coalmines before serving in the U.S. Navy. After returning from service, he took a loan from the local drugstore owner and opened up a restaurant in 1950. Funny enough, he designed the restaurant to look like a house, in case the restaurant didn’t succeed. Seventy years later, it is still owned by the family and is a town favorite! We devoured peppers and onions, pasta, garlic bread, cannoli and more on the car ride home. (It took me a few days to get the garlic smell out of the car, but hey! There are worse things.)
Our excursion inspired me to experiment with pasta dishes at home. I love cooking pasta for so many reasons; it is inexpensive, convenient, versatile and very filling. Here are some Krebs inspired favorites I have made at home over the last couple of months, while waiting for my new infertility memoir, ANGEL WINGS to be released! Check out my other blogs (inspirational, travel, lifestyle and infertility) here.
KREBS WHITE SPAGHETTI
This is a dish that I tried 30 years ago during my first trip to Krebs. If you like olives and peppers, you will love this dish! My mom and I are the only ones who like olives in our family, so we often make this if it is just the two of us. This is a great pasta dish for vegans, too!
½ cup good Italian olive oil
½ cup chopped green olives
¼ cup chopped pepperoncini peppers
1 T Italian seasoning
Mix all 4 ingredients above and Sautee’ for 25 minutes over medium heat. Meanwhile, boil angel hair pasta and drain. Pour the olive and pepper mix over the pasta. Serve hot with a side of grilled Italian sausage. Now, it’s a little spicy ya’ll, so put your big girl pants on.
Okay, you caught me. I was halfway done eating when I realized I forgot to take a photo!
UNCLE CHARLES MEAT SAUCE
This recipe has been in our family for 80 years. It is a family favorite. In fact, my Phillips relatives might be a little upset with me for sharing it. Although my Uncle Scott makes his sauce in a pot on the stove, I use the crock pot and find that it is just as good!
1.5 lbs. of ground beef or chuck, browned
6 slices of cooked bacon
16 oz. diced tomatoes with juice
½ cup finely chopped carrots (this is something I added; not in original recipe.), blanched or steamed
12 oz. tomato paste
12 oz. water
1 diced onion
1 t garlic powder (I use fresh garlic)
½ t oregano
1 t basil
1 t salt
1 t pepper
3 bay leaves
Cook all ingredients with lid on for two hours on low heat (stovetop) or all day on low heat (crock pot). Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve over spaghetti with a side of crusty bread and a green salad!
Now if you want to be real authentic, make sure you have lots of loud chuckles while consuming this dish. (Just like my Uncle Charles would!)
ASIAN SESAME NOODLES
Ok, so it’s not Italian, but it’s noodles! This is my son Aidan’s favorite dish. I make this weekly for him and serve it with a side of quick pickled cucumbers. It is another pantry staple dish that is so easy and convenient to make.
¼ cup low sodium soy sauce
¼ cup toasted sesame oil
½ cup thinly sliced green onion (or scallion)
1 T toasted sesame seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together soy sauce, sesame oil, salt and pepper in a bowl until combined. Meanwhile, cook spaghetti until al dente (important). Immediately toss the pasta with the sauce and green onions until combined. Serve warm or cold and sprinkle sesame seeds on top.
A little bit of trivia for you: Did you know that I used to own and operate an Asian restaurant in my hometown? This is where the inspiration came from. I had it for about eight years, until my twins came. Our cooks were Thai and they loved my blonde headed little boy. They called him “Dum-pling!” (which I still affectionately call him to this day).
SAUSAGE AND KALE PASTA
We have a ton of kale in our garden and I came up with this recipe “on the fly”. This is a great way to sneak some nutrition into your kids! The last time I made it, I added baby tomatoes from the garden, too. It is a great hearty dish for the fall. Dirk even gets seconds when I make it, so you know it has to be good! Wink.
1 package of Italian sausage (ground)
½ pound of chopped kale (ribs discarded)
3 T olive oil
1 t chopped garlic
1 oz grated Italian parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a skillet on medium heat, add sausage and cook for 7 minutes until brown. Meanwhile, blanch the kale in boiling salted water for 3-5 minutes, then remove kale with a sieve (and drain). Using the same water, boil the pasta of your choice (I recommend fettuccine). While pasta cooks, add kale and garlic to sausage pan. Sauté until tender, about 5-7 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Drain pasta, leaving ½ cup of pasta water. Add reserved pasta water to skillet mixture and toss until combined. Pour mixture over pasta and add cheese. Enjoy!
BONUS RECIPE: ITALIAN SALAD*
1 head romaine lettuce
½ c of Italian parmesan, grated
¼ c good balsamic vinegar (I prefer Italian)
½ c good Italian olive oil
Tear lettuce into pieces, place into a wooden bowl. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the lettuce. Add balsamic and olive oil, salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste. Darn-it, I forgot to take a photo. #twinmombrain
*HINT: You can find great Italian oils and vinegars at home stores such as Home Goods, TJ Maxx, etc.! Using imported products in the salad makes all the difference.